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Teaching Advice

10 Ways to #TurnHistoryOn


10 Ways to #TurnHistoryOn

In my work as an author and publisher, I am motivated by a simple, observable truth: many young people — and even some adults — find history boring.

  • They bridle at the suggestion that they might enjoy time at a museum.

  • They tolerate the family tour of a historic destination, anxious to get back to their friends both online and off.

The truth is, all they lack is a little context.

History is a collection of great stories: Stories of extraordinary adventures, incredible innovations, revolutionary breakthroughs, horrid acts of injustice. If told well, such tales can capture even the youngest imaginations.

So how can you help #TurnHistoryOn for the young people in your life?

Here are my Top 10 Tips...



Educational Value in Assassin’s Creed? I Say Yes.

Surprised to be reading about the educational value of a video game on a blog dedicated to education, history, literature, and learning?

So am I. But bear with me. I’ll admit I’ve been a cynic about video games since they evolved from Pac-Man. I could never understand why would anyone want to waste their time killing virtual enemies on a screen when they could sink into a great story with a movie or a book, practice a sport or an instrument, or just goof off outside.

Caitlin opened my eyes. We were talking about immersive storytelling and she referenced Assassin’s Creed.

You play that game? I asked.

You don’t? She said. You’d love it.

So I checked it out and, you know, she was right. Although the object of the game remains killing (the weapons and gear being big motivators), the assassin’s sandbox is a beautifully crafted 3-D environment rich in historical context. The parent company, UBISOFT, even has historians on the payroll!

Assassin’s Creed gameplay revolves around an age-old rivalry between two ancient secret societies: the Assassins and the Knights Templar. Their enmity dates to the Crusades and follows their successors through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to Revolution and modern times. Each game in the series assigns players the task of completing a covert mission, usually involving the assassination of a highly protected public figure.

Assassin’s Creed and Time Traveler Tours & Tales share a similar mission: both Turn History On. That mission dramatically intersects with the game’s latest release, UNITY, set during the French Revolution, the era in which our flagship heroine, Charlotte Corday, inscribed her name in the annals of immortality.

Is the game historically accurate? As a visual illustration of the age, yes. It is stunningly rendered and fully succeeds in transporting you to the time of the Revolution. It makes you feel like you’re part of the history, says Caitlin, which for a history nerd is very exciting!   

Even for the non-nerd, it’s a fantastic “way into” history. And that’s where its educational value lies. As Caitlin informed me,

Assassin's Creed allows you to not only learn about history, but to experience it. You explore places you could never could otherwise. From the streets of Jerusalem to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, Assassin's Creed encourages kids to learn from being there.

So let your kids get their "pure stealth" on (i.e., let them play). Then, their interest sufficiently piqued, grasp the opportunity to build their critical thinking skills by offering them more historically accurate information on the period. Seize the chance to engage them in doing real historical research. Immerse them in uncovering what really might have happened through authentic sources and other media.

Assassin’s Creed makes no claim to be anything other than Historical Fiction. Though a graphical and technological tour de force, it does take liberties with the facts.

The scene in the catacombs, for example, shows human bones stacked and organized in decorative patterns. But this didn’t happen until the early 1800s under Napoleon, who factors into Unity in a way he really didn’t in life. Another scene shows the protagonist, Arno Dorian, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, which was built 100 years later for the 1889 World’s Exhibition. In another, we see the Statue of Liberty under construction, still shackled by scaffolding, also about 100 years too early. And the Cathedral spire, from which Arno takes his death-defying leap into a haystack, was actually taken down during the years of Revolution and replaced in the 1860s.

Don’t even get me started on the accents! Enjoy Conan O’Brien, as the Clueless Gamer, on that.

Even staff historian, Maxime Durand, admits that the developer “takes some liberties creating visual assets, just to do what's best for gameplay'' (Wired Magazine). Whether this is right or wrong is definitely arguable. But they wouldn’t be the first creators to do so: How many of you, like me, grew up believing that Switzerland was just over the mountains from Salzburg after watching the Sound of Music?

The point is, Assassin’s Creed is immersive and engaging and a brilliant way to capture the attention, in particular, of the young person who’s convinced that “history is boring.”

Engagement and learning originate from the same part of the brain. Story and play are our most powerful teaching tools. We all construct new meaning on the foundations of what we already know. So let your teens learn what they can within Unity. Then put something historically accurate in their hands, like my interactive story BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE, available in app, iBook, and paperback editions. Or bring Revolutionary Paris to your classroom with Marcie Colleen’s Curriculum Handbook.

Use game, book, and role-play to spark discussion, see where it leads. There’s a great bibliography at the back of the book if they want to explore the era even further.

They may want to know, for instance, why Charlotte Corday doesn’t figure in Assassin’s Creed Unity? She was Revolutionary figure, after all. And an assassin.

What do you think about the educational value of Assassin's Creed, in particular, and video games, in general? Click comments to your right and let me know. It's a hot topic right now. Just last night it was discussed on KQED Radio, with parents, teachers, and researchers weighing in on both sides of the issue.

Stay tuned for my next post: Gender Bias in Assassin’s Creed? I Say Yes.



Is History Boring?

Our mission at Time Traveler Tours & Tales is to Make. History. Fun.

So this summer, to test whether we are on the right track, Team TTT&T surveyed dozens of teachers and parents of teens and 'tweens on the challenges they face turning young people on to history.

We reveal some of their survey responses, paraphrased and thematically grouped, below.


Please feel free to add your own in the comments following this post...


Challenge #1: History is Dry, Dull, Difficult

The way history is presented is all too often dry and not always developmentally appropriate.”

”No amount of outlining textbook content will help my son to memorize dates and understand time-lines. For him, this just makes the study of history difficult.”

”I teach 6th grade and somehow by the time students reach me, history’s already got a bad name.”

”Leading figures in history have been reduced to names and dates on a history test.”

”The teaching of history seems to display a linear progression of public events, a changing landscape of wars and kingdoms and governments. That’s the perfect presentation to fit a test-driven society, but not one that tells the whole story.

Response: Make History Personal.

Connect historical characters and events to kids’ own lives.”

”Have them interview their elders, record these stories, then make their own time-lines, linking the lives of their ancestors to historical times and places.”

”Offer kids first-hand experiences, like field trips and theater-based activities, that help them imagine the world then, so that they may build valid associations to now.”

”Offer them great, age-appropriate biographies of fascinating historical characters pitched to their particular interest and reading level.

Challenge #2: Comprehending Time in the Past

Helping students to understand the concept of time, e.g., 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, is a huge challenge.”

”Kids are bored by the distant past.”

”They think, ‘Old equals boring.’ They ask, ‘Why should this matter to me?’

Response: Make History Accessible and Relevant.

Use authentic, or primary source, materials, such as music, art, food, toys, fashion. These things make history more ‘real’ to students.”

”Show them that history is always repeating itself; that it isn’t just events that happened once in a linear fashion, but have recurred throughout time and all over the world.”

”In every major time period, there is one thing that has shaped the way kids live today. Make it like a mystery for them to figure out.”

”Encourage young people to read novels set in the era being studied. The greatest stories share the humanity in history and can be found in literature.

Challenge #3: It Doesn’t Concern Me

It’s the same attitude they have toward math: ‘When am I gonna use this?’”

”If young people don’t see how something has an effect on them, they find it difficult to care.”

”Students are history illiterate. They don’t understand the value of looking backward.”

”Students don’t see how history is relevant to what they need to get a job.

Response: Make History Real.

STORIES! That’s what makes history come alive. Travis and Crockett at the Alamo. Henry VIII. Lincoln at Gettysburg. Shooting the tsar in the cellar. Hitler in his bunker while Berlin burns. First steps on the moon. Malcolm X and Dr. King. Who could make up somebody like Ivan the Terrible?”

”All my greatest history teachers, from grade school to college, were also great storytellers.”

”I think it’s important to emphasize the stories in history – complete with hook, character development, story arc, and relevance to today.”

”Show them that history is a giant story full of rich characters and fascinating settings.

So, what do you think? Are we on the right track? Does the world have room for a company whose sole mission is to Make. History. Fun?

*  *  *

Learn all about our dramatically-new Curriculum Handbook,
from TTT&T Curriculum Developer, Marcie Colleen.

Turning kids on to history?

Join our Teacher Vanguard today!



Turning Kids on to History? Join the TTT&T Community!

Sarah Towle speaks with Marcie Colleen, Curriculum Developer for Time Traveler Tours & Tales, about curriculum writing, Process Drama, and her all-new Curriculum Handbook for Beware Madame la Guillotine.

Coming September 2014, just in time for Back to School, it’s perfect for Social Studies, History, English Language Arts as well as Dramatic Arts classrooms, and an excellent complement to European and World History curricula.

But the fun doesn't stop there.

To test and distribute this dramatically-new teaching and learning tool, Sarah and Marcie are opening the doors to authors and educators worldwide dedicated to turning kids on to history.

Join TTT&T’s Teacher Vanguard today! Get both curriculum guide and book FREE in exchange for your feedback. Become part of an international discussion on immersive teaching practice.

Don't wish to join the Vanguard?
But still want access to the BMLG Curriculum Handbook?

Pre-order your copy at the low introductory rate of just $9.99.
Available for pdf download by 15 Sept 2014.



Process Drama: A Valuable Teaching Tool Bound to Infuse your STEM Classroom with STEAM!

Time Traveler Tours & Tales’ dramatically new Curriculum Handbook for Beware Madame la Guillotine is nearly here! Developed by theater educator and children’s author, Marcie Colleen, our debut Curriculum Handbook uses Process Drama to bring Revolutionary Paris to life within the classroom walls. It is “interactivity” at its very best. And bound to bring your STEM classroom to a roiling boil!

Process drama does not require a dramatic arts teacher. It does not use familiar theater devices, such as scripts, costumes, actors, and stage crew. Rather, it is a creative instructional method that offers teachers and students the experience of an event, a place, or a time period through facilitated improvisation.

According to theater scholar and educator, Cecily O’Neill, process drama begins with “a task to be undertaken, a decision to be made, or a place to be explored.” Working from this prompt, the teacher and students create an imaginary world and work to address the challenges and opportunities of that world through dramatic interpretation.

There is no written script. The “drama” is not presented on a stage. Nor is there need of an audience. The drama is “set” in a classroom. It might extend over the course of an hour, several days, or even weeks. And it involves all students. The drama unfolds at the hands of these student-actor-researchers as they explore and become part of a particular moment, breakthrough, or event in historical time.

With Marcie’s brilliant complement to Beware Madame la Guillotine the interactive tale (available at Amazon and on the iBookstore), students time travel to the French Revolution and bear witness to it first hand. They walk in the shoes of protagonist, Charlotte Corday. They experience the tremendous social and political upheaval of the time through her eyes. They absorb the ins and outs of this dense historical period in an immersive, play-like way. They take it all in and make sense through their 21st century lens. They make history relevant to today.

Process drama can play a powerful role in any classroom, even in science. But it is particularly well matched to language arts, history, and social studies curricula, especially when teaching literary genre, social concepts, or history far removed from students’ own lives. Through improvised dramas, students experience content personally, providing a deeper connection to the material, thus gaining a higher order understanding of the subject being taught. It all turns on empathy.

Process drama is a complex tool, yes, but one that offers teachers depth and breadth across the curriculum. Marcie’s example stands as an excellent illustration that turns an otherwise dense and potentially tedious historical subject for young people into a luminous and textured tale of scandal and passion, intrigue and treachery.

Turning kids on to history?
Join Marcie and me and our growing community of educatiors
at The TTT&T Teacher Vanguard today!

For more information on Process Drama, we recommend this article from Kennedy Center's ArtsEdge.